The ring dance was also present throughout the Middle Ages in the Reigen, or round dance of the peasants, and in the entertainment of the troubadours in the courts1. At this time, there was still a cosmic element associated with the round dance pattern as Honorius states, “In their ring dances they thought of the rotation of the firmament; in the clasping of their hands the union of the elements”2. Maypole dancing or May Day feasts with their ring dancing around a festooned pole or tree is said to have come from this age3.
During the Renaissance, the Catholic theologian Bonaventura wrote on the sacred ring dance, stating that in the celestial spheres it is Christ himself who leads the ring dance with the angels, also implying that there will be a future dance of the same type4. Evidence of the round dance is also found in paintings of The Renaissance by many different artists:
In the beautiful paintings of the Renaissance there are glimpses of movement as the angels represent adoration. The flow of the costumes, the positions held for the moment, and the circular formations, all imply that the artists conceived of movement rather than static positions . . . Fra Angelico painted ‘the Dance of the Redeemed’ as part of ‘The Last Judgment,’ portraying a circular dance of saints and angels entering paradise.5
Even into the present age, the same pattern of the round dance persists. The Shakers believe that the circle is an emblem of their perfect union and use dances with movements in concentric circles around a central chorus to show the all-inclusiveness of their gospel6. Indeed, their square-order shuffle dance is patterned after a vision of angels dancing around the throne of God7. A German dancer named Bernhard Wosien created what he called the Sacred Dance in 1976, and enthusiasts continue to expand on his theme, calling it the Circle Dance, or Sacred Circle Dance, and including a small altar of flowers or other sacred object in the center of the circle8.
The Greek and Russian Orthodox churches still practice a ring dance around the altar as part of their sacred wedding ceremony:
It is a ring dance about the altar at the conclusion of the ceremony. Usually the six participants are the priest, the best man, the bridegroom, the bride, the bridesmaid, and the deacon. They join hands in this order to perform their sacred wedding dance. 9
Nibley notes that H. Leisegang connects this current marriage practice with ancient prayer circles10. Even modern-day ballroom dancing and social round dancing (often called sequence dancing) owes some recognition to its heritage of ring dancing in the courts of the nobility during the Middle Ages. In some of this social round dancing there is a leader or cuer who calls the steps to be danced in the ring.
More examples illustrate this dance pattern exhibited in other areas of the world; however, the preceding is sufficient to show that it has penetrated almost every clime and in every time. More significant is the fact that these round dances all follow the same general prototype of a circular formation of dancers in a circular or rotating motion, often around a central sacred object, person(s) or altar. Generally they are religious in nature, with the participants joining hands with their neighbors, and usually following a central leader in singing, praising, chanting, reciting a text, or following some physical motions or gestures.
So where did the round dance come from? Where did the tradition of the round dance, present in all of these civilizations, have its origin? Some scholars have said that it is through borrowings from other civilizations, but this cannot be the ultimate answer since many of the civilizations, even some of those mentioned earlier, were contemporaries and occupied different corners of the globe. How did they all come to have the same pattern in their dance rituals? I believe that it all links back to religion, the gospel of salvation that was taught to Adam and Eve in the beginning, and the rituals and ordinances associated with that gospel. These rituals were slowly corrupted and changed into apostate imitations which have spread across the world. As Ellfeldt notes, the original meaning of the ritual dances and ceremonies were mostly lost, and what we are left with are patterns, gestures, sounds or symbols. However, these tokens still assure the participants propitiation and salvation11. The ritual transforms into art as the faith and symbolism behind it is lost12. This can easily be seen in the metamorphosis of dance as a religious gesture into an act of entertainment in the Greek society13. Interestingly, the resurgence of many references to the ring dance shortly after the crucifixion and during early Christianity, as noted previously, is a strong indicator that Christ may have restored the original form and meaning of these rituals during his earthly ministry. Today, we find the true, restored and presently revealed form of the sacred ordinances of the gospel in the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints14.
- Kraus, Richard G., Sarah Chapman Hilsendager, and Brenda Dixon Gottschild. History of the Dance in Art and Education. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1991, 62; qtd. in Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas, and Clare Goodrick-Clarke. G.R.S. Mead and the Gnostic Quest. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 2005, 153 [↩]
- qtd. in Taylor, Margaret Fisk. A Time to Dance: Symbolic Movement in Worship. Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1967, 90 [↩]
- Kraus, Richard G., Sarah Chapman Hilsendager, and Brenda Dixon Gottschild. History of the Dance in Art and Education. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1991, 62 [↩]
- Taylor, Margaret Fisk. A Time to Dance: Symbolic Movement in Worship. Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1967, 103 [↩]
- ibid., 105. This detail is also commonly referred to as “The Dance of the Angels” or “The Dance of the Blessed”. The whole painting of “The Last Judgment” by Fra Angelico is interesting in other ways as well, including (1) that Saints and Apostles seem to join Christ above in the judgment seat, (2) that all people, good and bad, have resurrected, (3) that angels are helping to lead the blessed towards the “heavenly city”, (4) the blessed are clothed in special garments adorned with stars and crowned on the head with garlands, (5) and that once they reach the holy gates they stretch out their hands and hold each other’s hands, and are admitted only two by two (Masters in Art: A Series of Illustrated Monographs, Bates and Guild Co., 1903, 37). [↩]
- Kraus, Richard G., Sarah Chapman Hilsendager, and Brenda Dixon Gottschild. History of the Dance in Art and Education. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1991, 108 [↩]
- ibid., 108 [↩]
- “Circle Dance.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 26 Aug 2006. 19 Nov 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_dance>. [↩]
- Taylor, Margaret Fisk. A Time to Dance: Symbolic Movement in Worship. Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1967, 132 [↩]
- Nibley, Hugh, et al. Mormonism and Early Christianity. Vol. 4. Salt Lake City, Utah; Provo, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1987, 53-54 [↩]
- Ellfeldt, Lois. Dance, from Magic to Art. Dubuque, Iowa: W. C. Brown Co., 1976, 30 [↩]
- qtd. in Kraus, Richard G., Sarah Chapman Hilsendager, and Brenda Dixon Gottschild. History of the Dance in Art and Education. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1991, 28 [↩]
- ibid., 43 [↩]
- Nibley, Hugh, et al. The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment. 2nd ed. Vol. 16. Salt Lake City, Utah; Provo, Utah: Deseret Book; Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Brigham Young University, 2005, xxvii [↩]